November/December 2004

     Supplier Know-How

Ultimate Service
The Total Customer Experience

By Art Ramey

“Be ahead of the curve with current and new products and services focused at the market and the end-customer channels. Doing what the customer asks is only 50 percent of the equation.”
The major emphasis for any company is “Take care of your customers’ expectations,” or better stated, “Make the service experience a great one.” You better believe if you don’t, someone else will. This means cultural change, striving for perfection at all levels and communicating the goals of the overall program, the way to achieve them, the daily order and management of the customer’s sales efforts and orders, inventory, full market information and opportunities.

Tall Orders
Sound like a tall order? It does require a different mindset, a different way of approaching things, and communicating with each other openly, while developing a long-range plan together. Simply stated, it means taking ownership and responsibility in growing each company’s business.

What is the reward for making the commitment and taking the journey? The answer is a profitable business for a long period of time for each company involved.

Consider the following:
• Superior service companies average twice the growth rate of poor-service companies; and
• Profit grows for each party. Lexus is only 20 percent of Toyota’s unit sales; however, it’s 1/3 of its operating profits.

The Ten Commandments
What is the process for making this happen? Let’s approach it as the “Ten Commandments of the Total Customer Experience.”

1. Understand the market opportunity between supplier and customer for the area the customer services. Research the target area and channels to market. Identify and prioritize the target end customers. Get all the information you can, up front.

2. Develop a business plan together and identify the financial results by year for three years forward.

3. Make the product mix the right mix for the market.

4. Keep the momentum going. You must be driven by the needs that customers don’t even know they have yet. Be ahead of the curve with current and new products and services focused at the market and the end-customer channels. Doing what the customer asks is only 50 percent of the equation.

Here’s some food for thought:
• Fifteen years ago, how many people were asking for cell phones, fax machines and copiers at home, or compact disc players, the Home Shopping Network or automated teller machines?
• Hal Sperlich, the “father” of the minivan said, “In ten years of developing the minivan, we never once got a letter from a housewife or mother asking us to invent a minivan.”

5. Update the mutual plan quarterly and forecast next quarter’s business.

6. Tell it like it is—the good, the bad and the ugly. Strive for 100-percent complete orders, communicate any bad news in advance, have a date when the bad news will become good news with a plan of action and establish a time to talk and review the progress. There is an emotional dimension with customers; they think differently than suppliers.

7. Don’t get caught in the percentage game. The customer who has the misfortune of falling into the one-percentile category doesn’t care about the other 99 percent. This is the essence of providing the total customer experience from marketing, promotion, new products, on-time orders, follow-up and communications. After all, the 1-percent problems may be your largest customer.

8. Remember that every customer’s expectations are different. They need to be defined early. What may be a small thing to you could be a monumental help to the customer.

9. Remember customers’ expectations change continually. (Enough said.)

10. Create differentiation beyond product. The total customer experience is the vital key to your company’s differentiation. For instance, a national survey showed 85 percent of senior business leaders say differentiating on the physical tradition is no longer sustainable, and 15 percent say they are doing something about it.

Think of someone in a company who gave you an extraordinary customer experience. Try to mirror that person’s actions in your business endeavors. y

Art Ramey is the executive vice president of sales, marketing and distribution of Royal Mouldings of Marion, Va.


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